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Equality & diversity: from compliance to opportunity

Purple Tuesday once again highlighted the need for retailers to do more to ensure a positive experience for disabled customers, and by extension, disabled staff.  

The need to do more to support the UK’s 12 million disabled people is even more pronounced since the pandemic, and the commercial incentives for retailers are undeniable. 

From a customer perspective, Purple estimates a monthly loss of £267 million to the high street and £501 million to grocery specifically where retailers are losing out on the ‘Purple Pound’.

In matters of employment, it is estimated that in the UK one in five working adults has a disability. Sadly, and as is particularly the case with mental health issues, a large proportion of employees choose not to disclose their impairment to their employer.   

Diversity of thinking

There is a growing need for retailers to promote disability inclusion across the workforce in order to attract and retain disabled candidates as employees.  

It is often said that an organisation’s most important asset is its people, and there are obvious benefits to employing talented disabled workers. Diversity drives new ideas and opportunities to build a stronger, more resilient and more sustainable business. Harnessing the perspectives of disabled employees as part of the overall business strategy should make an organisation both more attractive to would be recruits and more relevant to the disabled consumer. 

The upshot of these two factors should lead to a positive impact on a retailer’s bottom line. As one of the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic, this begs the question: can retailers afford not to take action? 

Legal compliance

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits direct disability discrimination, indirect disability discrimination, discrimination arising from disability, disability harassment and victimisation in the workplace. It also puts employers under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and job applicants who are placed at a substantial disadvantage because of their disabilities. 

The scope of protection goes wider than just employees and covers job applicants and those ‘in employment’ under a contract of employment, a contract of apprenticeship or a contract personally to do work. 

While many employers might already consider themselves to operate equal opportunities, all too often in practice, the focus is on doing only what is needed to ensure compliance. In many cases, the first occasion that equality and diversity policies and practices are scrutinised is when an employer is on the receiving end of a grievance of worse, an employment tribunal claim for discrimination.  

Of course, retailers need to understand their moral and legal obligations towards disabled employees and part of that should include implementing an equality and diversity policy and training staff on that policy. However, in terms of what can be done to promote inclusivity, this is only the starting point.

Promoting inclusivity 

The real challenge for employers is how to shift the focus away from being one purely of compliance to being one of opportunity – namely, the opportunity to evolve to become more disability confident and to ensure that the workplace is truly inclusive and representative both for existing and prospective employees.

There are a number of ways to approach this. Examples range from adapting the online recruitment process to improving accessibility for disabled candidates; posting vacancies in the right place to attract a diverse pool of candidates; introducing disability champions; setting up buddy systems; appointing mental health ambassadors; and offering training to managers to help them be more confident when managing disabled employees. 

Another strategy is to involve an external disability led organisation that offers support for businesses committed to improving inclusivity. Available services include accessibility audits, advice on improving current working practices, training for trainers and supporting retailers with submissions under the government’s Disability Confident accreditation scheme.  

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at November 2020. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

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